October storm forecast. High winds. Garden. Not words you want to hear together in the same sentence. Would the heritage trees we hold in such high regard falter in the projected weather? Perhaps we’d lose some of the branches of those specimens at the Dunn Gardens we know to be 100 years old. At worst, a whole tree would tumble.

Not having your fears confirmed is the sweet side of such worrying. A program of careful pruning over the last eight years helped no end. The wind of the October blast was not as bad as predicted and all the Dunn trees stood firm in defiance of the weather.

What did we find in a post storm inspection of the grounds? Leaves nudged off their summer homes early, flowers blown open, and twigs tossed around the driveway. And at the base of the three Douglas fir trees reigning over the end of The Great Lawn we found a drift of cones.

If you have ever looked closely at a Douglas fir cone you know they are distinctive. They look like a…there is a story that can describe their features better than anything else.

It is a Native American tale from California and begins as do all good stories… “Once upon a time” there was a little mouse that loved to wander the forest floor looking for nuts and seed to eat.  Mouse had to be very careful, though, because he knew there was a fox that would like to eat him. So he watched always. He looked to the left. He looked to the right when he went out. Except the day the sun shone after lots of rain and sparkled through the great branches of the Douglas fir trees towering above. Mouse forgot to look carefully. Suddenly he sensed something was wrong and  stopped nibbling. There, staring at him was Fox, ready to pounce. Licking his chops.

“Oh!” squeaked Mouse. “What am I to do?” Then he squeaked some more. “Oh! Oh! Oh!”

The Douglas fir above heard the little mouse and felt sorry for him. He called out in a booming voice. “Up here. Come up here and hide in my branches.”

So the mouse did. Quicker than wink he ran up the old tree’s trunk but instead of hiding in a branch he tried a cone. Trouble was, he was just a bit too big for the cone and his tail and his back legs hung out for the world to see. At least he was safe away from the hungry fox.

Now when you look at a seed cone from the Douglas fir you can see the tail and the back legs of a mouse hanging out. Perhaps there will also be a fox waiting underneath it for the mouse to come down. You never know.

The Douglas firs at the Dunn Gardens are iconic. Since they can live more that 500 years and periodically 1,000, we are ever hopeful they will be around for a lot longer. We would like to think we will be able to tell the story about their seed cones in the Dunn Gardens to our grandchildren and they can tell it to their grandchildren after a storm.